A manufacturing engineer with a master’s degree in chemistry, Susan Shalloe had more than 10 years of experience in R&D and technical and process improvement roles when she became pregnant with her third child. Around the same time, her husband was promoted, uprooting the family from Dublin to Cork, in Ireland. That's when Susan decided to take a short-term break from her career.
I thought it would be temporary, lasting only a year or two, but it ended up going on for 15 years. And during that whole time, even though I missed the experience of working every day, I really enjoyed that I was able to dedicate so much time to my children. I felt privileged. But of course, I always wanted to return to work—it was something I thought about all the time.
So, when Susan caught wind of new government-funded training programs, some of which seemed designed specifically for people like her, she leapt at the opportunity. Sending the application off, she remembers saying to herself, "I’ve got nothing to lose."
Indeed, Susan had everything to gain, setting in motion a chain of events that would eventually bring her to the Re-Ignite program at Johnson & Johnson. This is the story of her journey away from the workforce and back again, and how you can make it your own.
When Susan was accepted into the training program, she felt thrilled, if also a tad nervous. It was a one-year college course, after all. But as a first step, she recalled, "Returning to college was probably easier than trying to jump right back to work."
Still, she had her doubts. Am I going to be any good in college? Am I still able to remember things and learn?
"I quickly found out that I was still extremely capable,” she said. “The skills, the ability to learn, none of that had gone away.”
If anything, Susan discovered the opposite was true: She felt like she was more interested in her subjects now—more dedicated to her studies in general—than she ever had been as an undergrad or graduate student.
After completing the coursework, Susan applied to multiple roles and received several offers, including one from Re-Ignite. She wasn’t sure which she would choose—that is, until her Re-Ignite interviewer reached out to her by phone, carefully laying out the support structure of the program and pointing out that it included access to a peer body, hands-on mentoring and more.
Her mind was made up. My gut tells me I probably need a little hand holding.
And support is something she’s gotten in spades at Johnson & Johnson. "Whenever I had important questions to ask—who I need to know to get my job done, how to get introduced to the right people and so on—my manager and peer buddy were always there to provide answers," she said.
From the get-go, she also saw that she would be asked to take on new challenges, and be challenged to grow, at Johnson & Johnson. "I was put on one of the top projects for the business," she recalled. "The challenge was to change the chemistry used in a hip and knee implant manufacturing facility."
Contributing to time-sensitive projects like that one has helped Susan immerse herself in her work. She says that she has enjoyed the intensity—the sense of ownership and responsibility—for all of the initiatives she's been behind.
For Susan, the technical skills were the easiest piece to catch up on. "I was more nervous about changing my established routine than I was about my skill set or capabilities," she said.
Less easy, however, were some of the new approaches to collaboration she encountered at Johnson & Johnson. For example it took her a while to adjust to some of the new norms of modern offices, like conference calls via Skype and raising tickets to solve IT issues.
Ultimately, though, Susan believes that taking time away from the workplace has given her valuable perspective. "Only now do I understand how resilient I am, and how all of the work that I've done—both personally and professionally—has shaped me,” she said. “All of that is closely tied to what I contribute here."
Susan also believes that being away from the workplace improved her ability to see the big picture. And in terms of managing uncertainty—well, having three children is a pretty effective crash course.
Nowadays, she takes everything in stride. Nothing can faze her. I don't let the little things bother me, and I rarely get upset on the job.
Now, reflecting on her decision to return to the workplace, Susan says she has "no regrets." Or as she put it, “What I would have regretted is not coming back to work at all.”
So if Susan's story, or at least a part of it, sounds familiar to you, be sure to learn more about the Re-Ignite program at Johnson & Johnson—and apply for your spot on one of our dynamic teams today!